Nibbles - A Transmedia Journey
The journey "Nibbles" took me on was one worth documenting. It was an early (and rare) example of a transmedia IP sold directly to a major network. Its vision, pilot production, and development process were unique and very representative of my endless exploration of the intersection of interactivity and storytelling.
Stage 1: Development
Nibbles was co-created by my wife, Lisa Wong and I. The original concept was pitched as "A weaponized GIANT BUNNY is launched at a peaceful civilization for a hostile takeover! But when a brilliant hacker befriends the monster, it turns its back on its corporate overlords and becomes the planet’s greatest defender." Pretty fun, right? But that was just the narrative part of it.
"Nibbles" was pitched as a transmedia IP that will use the same scripts for two separate experiences: one as a traditional TV show and one as a playable, episodic VR experience. The idea was to tell the story from 2 different characters' perspectives on two appropriately different platforms, utilizing "scale" as a key distinguishing factor.
"Nibbles" was a buddy comedy with two lead protagonists: Trina, the young hacker, and Nibbles, the giant kaiju bunny. Trina was a "Burp", a tiny smurf-like alien that lives in a society much like our own. Nibbles was a building-sized cybernetic bunny that communicates with his alien overlords through a "Starfox" style HUD. After I sketched out initial roughs, we hired our friend and brilliant artist Luciano Herrera to handle our 2D character and poster designs and a game UX designer to help us bring life to Nibbles' virtual world's POV. It all came out looking quite snazzy!
The idea was to see each TV episode through Trina's POV and then allow fans to play the same narrative through Nibbles' POV in virtual reality. We also played with an adult-oriented version of this concept as well...
The adult version was a bloodier, grittier, and less forgiving experience. The "burps" were ripe for abuse! In this version, Nibbles was a monster that needed to be educated and kept in check in order to prevent him from defaulting to his...old habits.
But this adult version did not go far, because shortly after we started pitching "Nibbles" to TV networks...
Stage 2: The Option
Cartoon Network was pumped about Nibbles, and decided to option it relatively fast. The 6-11 version of Nibbles prevailed and we were ready to get to work. At around the same time, Lisa and I joined forces with our colleague veteran game programmer Richard Weeks to start our own company: Binary Bubbles (now known by its product name: PopBase). The company was built as a technology company and not a content production house, but before we initiated fundraising we wanted to bootstrap our development and prove our product's thesis.
So Binary Bubbles took on the task of becoming the production studio to develop the VR pilot for Nibbles and show the network a "white box" example of how a "scene" from our script would play out in VR. So while I was outlining the game design documentation, we also started developing the creative IP further.
Lisa and I wrote a pilot script and the company invested in additional concept art and UI mockups as we were negotiating the costs of this first "demo" with the network.
It didn't take long before we were ready to hit the road. We kept our team small and managed a bit of outsourcing for prop designs - and we jumped headfirst into:
Stage 3: The Virtual Reality Demo
We had just 2-3 months to produce this proof of concept, and we wanted to make the best out of it. We picked a specific, action-packed scene from the pilot script and I based our design on it. We strategically modeled assets that were key to the IP's personality and style (like the Burp soldiers below and Nibbles' HUD) and mixed it with generic asset store models to create the demo using Unity.
Production went smoothly and we delivered fully playable builds working on both Oculus and Vive. We directed and recorded voice actors and went beyond a simple "white box"...because of course we did! The experience followed a scene from our pilot script where Nibbles is sent by his operators "Lenny" and "George" to destroy a Burp military base. You can watch a playthrough of the experience in the video below:
The network loved the demo...but other things started happening. Between the AT&T deal, the WarnerMedia merger, and the network's development department's staff reshuffling - the VR industry started on a pretty grim downward spiral. Nibbles was never a "VR property". The story stood as its own wonderfully fleshed-out world that could live as a standard animated, 6-11 TV show. But in the network it was just labeled as a "VR show" and that certainly didn't help during that transitional period for the network. So we let the option expire and took back the rights to this IP. So...what now?
Stage 4: The Future of Nibbles
The IP is back in our hands and is full of potential. Now more than ever. It was optioned pretty fast, so very few networks got to actually see it during our original shopping cycle. But with all the materials we have under our belt - we decided to just pitch it as a standard TV show moving forward. But if anyone feels like being adventurous and committing to the original transmedia vision: we have an amazing playable POC as part of the package to prove that possibility. Not bad!
The last few years have been a bit...unpredictable, as we all know. And right now, before we even started re-pitching, things started moving...and now the IP is already in early negotiations for a potential acquisition by another media company. It's still early in the process - but it's certainly an interesting turn of events! It's making us hopeful.
I don't know what the future holds for Nibbles...but its first iteration was certainly ahead of its time. I think this property is a great example of how I personally view the future of entertainment: Integrated, cohesive and consistent across all platforms. Who knows? maybe one-day Nibbles will get to act as additional proof of its original philosophy!